This season I’ll be breaking down a few of college football’s biggest games each week and giving out at least one bet I like from each matchup. 

Let’s dive into Saturday’s marquee Big Ten showdown in State College between Ohio State and Penn State. 

Ohio State vs Penn State Spread, current line:

Ohio State vs Penn State Best Bet Prediction:

Penn State likely does not have the offensive talent to keep pace with the Buckeyes 一 lay the points and take Ohio State at -15.5 against the spread

» Bet it now: Ohio State -15.5  

When Ohio State is on Offense

Ohio State relies on a pass-heavy approach, throwing the ball 55% of the time in neutral situations, according to Campus2Canton

C.J. Stroud is also an aggressive downfield passer, with 30% of his throws outside the red zone traveling at least 15 yards downfield. And on those throws, Stroud leads the nation with a 75.6% on-target rate, per Sports Info Solutions

Penn State’s secondary has excelled disrupting passes this year, with a 17.6% ball-hawk rate (the percentage of targets on which the defensive back makes a play on the ball), according to Sports Info Solutions. 

That ball-hawk rate is heavily influenced by Penn State’s use of man coverage, which it plays at the eighth-highest rate outside the red zone (45%). 

However, Penn State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has significantly dialed back their use of man coverage against top opponents. Against Auburn, their man coverage rate dropped to 30% and it fell to 23% against Michigan 一 the two lowest rates of Penn State’s season. 

Assuming Diaz scales back his usage of man coverage in this game, expect Penn State’s ability to disrupt Stroud’s passes to suffer. There’s a correlation between man coverage and ball-hawk rate 一 and Penn State’s falls from 25% in man coverage, to 13% when playing zone, per Sports Info Solutions. 

Ohio State should also have success on the ground with Miyan Williams and TreVeyon Henderson.

Consider these numbers for the Penn State run defense, excluding sacks and scrambles, courtesy of Sports Info Solutions:

  • Allowing 4.7 yards per attempt with a stacked box, ranked 94th
  • Allowing 5.5 yards per attempt with a light box, ranked 89th

A poor showing against Michigan certainly contributed to those numbers, but Ohio State’s rushing attack is closer to Michigan’s than anyone else on Penn State’s schedule. 

Take a look at Williams and Henderson’s numbers versus different box types:

OSU RBLight Box Yds/AttStacked Box Yds/Att
Miyan Williams8.75.5
TreVeyon Henderson6.15.5

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When Penn State is on Offense

Penn State runs the ball 58% of the time in a neutral game situation, according to Campus2Canton. Early in this game, Penn State will likely lean further into that run-heavy, slow-paced style in an effort to keep the Buckeyes offense on the sideline. 

Ohio State’s run defense is much improved and is likely up for the challenge of slowing down Nick Singleton and the Nittany Lions’ rushing attack. 

Consider these numbers on the Buckeyes’ run defense from Sports Info Solutions:

  • Ranked seventh in opponent-adjusted EPA per attempt allowed
  • Ranked 30th in yards per attempt allowed with a stacked box (3.5)
  • Ranked 2nd in yards per attempt allowed with a light box (3.4)

Ohio State also excels at creating havoc in the backfield, contacting ball carriers at or behind the line of scrimmage on 49% of attempts, ranked 11th in the FBS.

That’s a problematic trend for Penn State, which ranks 62nd in opponent-adjusted rushing yards before contact, per Sports Info Solutions. 

Additionally, we recently saw Penn State’s run game shut down by Michigan, when Singleton and Kaytron Allen combined to average just 2.9 yards per attempt.

If Penn State is forced to throw the ball, Sean Clifford lacks the tools to get the job done. 

Although James Franklin made sure to let everyone know about Clifford winning Big Ten player of the week honors against Minnesota, that came against one of the nation’s worst pass-rush units 一 Minnesota ranks 123rd in opponent-adjusted pressure rate. 

Ohio State’s defense won’t be so friendly.

Clifford has been pressured on 28% of his dropbacks, and Penn State ranks 99th in opponent-adjusted pressure rate allowed. 

Take a look at some key stats on Ohio State’s pass rush, via Sports Info Solutions:

  • Ranked eighth in opponent-adjusted pressure rate generated
  • Leads nation in pressure rate generated without a blitz (37%)
  • Ranked 17th in pressure rate generated on blitzes (43%)

Clifford also struggles throwing deep 一 he ranks 116th in catchable pass rate at 10 or more yards downfield 一 so it’s tough to imagine Penn State making a comeback if the Buckeyes build a significant lead. 

Final Thoughts on Penn State vs Ohio State Best Bets

Penn State might be able to keep this game close for a period of time, but expect Ohio State to build a double-digit lead at some point in this game 一 and as soon as Penn State is forced to lean on Clifford, the game should spiral out of control. 

Since taking over in 2019, Ryan Day is 7-2-1 against the spread as a road favorite of at least two touchdowns. Trust the Buckeyes to keep that winning trend alive and take Ohio State against the spread. 

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